Umtanum Creek, Yakima River Canyon
I've been meaning to share my favorite Washington birding spot for several years now. A couple of years ago I attempted to lead a backpacking trip through the Seattle Audubon Society to this canyon. But I didn't have enough takers to make it worthwhile. So this year I, along with my co-leader, decided to lead a day hike through the canyon.
The weekend before the trip, Tor and I headed out and camping one night in the canyon at our usual camping spot. The birds were fantasitic as always. The bonuses were a Prairie Falcon nest with nestlings in rock face on the canyon and a pair of Lewis's Woodpeckers that were looking to nest in a tree right next to the campsite.
We unfortunately didn't see much Big Horn Sheep activity as in the past. We eagerly awaited dusk to see if the ewes and their young would come out, but they didn't. We did see a small group of males as we hiked out of the canyon however.
During the heat of the day, the snakes were quite numerous. We saw several Garter Snakes, Pacific Rattlers, Bullsnakes, and a Racers. They would all zip off into the grass long before we could get a good view of them. The flowers put on an impressive display. We were a little late for the lupine and mule's ears, but it seems a little more lush this year than in years past.
The field trip itself was pretty successful. I think, however, migration had already peaked and as a result we saw/heard less warblers and other migrants. Everyone seemed to have an enjoyable time. It made me think about leading more trips in the future and specifically leading this trip next year.
My trip report that I posted to Tweeters:
Surprisingly the canyon was almost void of warbler song. During our scouting trip just the week before (on June 2nd), however, we heard singing Wilson's, Black-throated Gray, Orange-crowned, Townsend's, and Yellow Warblers. Also surprising was the absence of snakes, which were numerous just one week before. An unfortunate find on Saturday was the loss of a potential Lewis's Woodpecker nest. The snag had fallen some time between our scouting trip and the field trip. We found the pair of woodpeckers still near the fallen snag. Hopefully they will find a new home this season.
We had the fortune of running into Neil Zimmerman who pointed out three male Big Horned Sheep on the canyon rim. Other mammals seen were a Yellow-bellied Marmot and several Rock Squirrels.
After our hike, we stopped at Big Pine Campground (located south of Umtanum) to check out Neil's tip on Common Nighthawks. We found a dozen or so nighthawks wheeling over the pines and the river. Not as many as Neil originally saw, but still a great sight. Also present of note were several Western Kingbirds and a pair of Bullock's Orioles.
All in all a great day spent in a beautiful area. Between Umtanum Creek and Big Pine, we saw 44 species; list follows.
Turkey Vulture U, 1
U=Umtanum; B=Big Pine
Pictures (click on thumbnail to enlarge)
Bird List (from scouting trip)
Directions: South of I-90 on Hwy-821 (Canyon Road).
Required permit: Annual Interagency Passport or self-register fee at the parking lot